How To Control Your Emotions Using The Logic Switch

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During the filming of Terminator Salvation, Christian Bale exploded in a fit of anger after Shane Hurlbut, director of photography, accidentally walked on set. Bale threatened to assault Hurlbut and wanted him fired if he erred again.

Day’s later, Bale apologized. The message in his apology was dramatically different.

“I got annoyed, and then what happened, I made it ugly, and that was awful of me. I took it way too far […] when I’m saying I’m not coming back from that set if he’s hired, you know what, it’s hot air. I don’t believe that. I have no intention of getting anybody fired” —Christian Bale. 1

Watch the video version of this article or scroll to continue reading.

On the surface, Bale’s behavior makes little sense. Why would Bale say something he didn’t believe? Especially when doing so threatened his reputation and the quality of his relationships.

Is Bale Possessed?

As confusing as this behavior is, it’s a common human trait. Rational people often become irrational in a matter of seconds. It’s as if they flip a switch.

You’ve likely done this yourself. Maybe you said something hurtful during an argument. Or, possibly you overreacted at work when you felt frustrated or anxious.

If so, I’m guessing you paid the price for your actions. Rarely do these outbursts improve the situation. Countless people have lost jobs or damaged relationships as a result of losing their cool.

What’s odd is most people can’t explain why they act this way. Statements like “I have no idea what came over me” are common.

In this article, I’ll teach you why these outbursts happen by describing what I call the logic switch. This knowledge will prevent your emotions from taking over so you can regain control of your life.

The Human Brain

To describe the logic switch, I’ll begin with a simplified explanation of how the brain works.

Note: The brain is far more complex than what I’m about to describe. But, you don’t need to know high-level details about the brain to succeed in life, like you don’t need to know how to repair a car’s engine to be a great driver.

To avoid the extinction list for six million years, the human brain had to be great at two things. Those are thinking and responding to threats. Specific regions of the brain evolved to handle both tasks.

Region 1: The Thinking Brain

A region of your brain known as the cerebral cortex handles high-level thinking. The thinking brain allows you to plan, process language, and build complex objects like smartphones. However, this processing power comes at the expense of being slow.

In critical situations, the thinking brain can’t think fast enough to save your life. If our ancestors had needed time to decide if running from a tiger was a good idea, you wouldn’t be reading this article.

In short, the thinking brain is smart but slow.

Region 2: The Reacting Brain

A region of your brain known as the amygdala makes up for the thinking brain’s lack of speed. Besides regulating emotion, the reacting brain makes split-second decisions that keep you alive when faced with threats. It does this by activating the fight or flight response.

The reacting brain’s speed also comes with a cost. Without time to think, reacting-brain decisions lack logic.

In short, the reacting brain is fast but dumb.

The Logic Switch

When you experience a threat, your brain must quickly pass that information to your reacting brain. To accomplish this task, your brain uses what is best described as a traffic director. 2 3 4

Here’s how it works.

Environmental cues enter your brain via the five senses—sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

If the cue is non-threatening, the traffic director sends the information to the thinking brain. Your thinking brain forms a logical response, then sends the cue to the reacting brain for emotional processing.

How Your Brain Processes Non-Threatening Inputs
How Your Brain Processes Non-Threatening Inputs

However, if the cue is threatening, the traffic director saves time by sending the information directly to the reacting brain. It’s as if the traffic director flips a logic switch that shuts off the thinking brain—giving you the ability to react quickly without thinking.

And herein lies the problem. Acting without thinking is good when avoiding a snake, but it’s bad when responding to your spouse.

How Your Brain Processes Threatening Inputs
How Your Brain Processes Threatening Inputs

What’s critical to understand is that emotions can also shut off the thinking brain. As the strength of your emotions increases, your ability to think logically decreases. So your thinking is likely impaired whenever you feel overly afraid, anxious, or excited. After all, there’s a reason why phrases like “blinded by love” or “in a blind rage” exist.

Logic vs. Emotion Graph
Logic vs. Emotion Graph

How The Logic Switch Can Improve Your Life

This lesson is one of the most important things you can learn about your brain. Essentially, this information tells you that your brain has a smart state and a dumb state.

In the smart state, your logic switch is on, and the thinking brain is engaged. In the dumb state, your logic switch is off, and your reacting brain is engaged.

The Logic Switch
The Logic Switch

One of the easiest ways to improve your life is to stop making decisions when your brain is in the dumb state. I know that sounds like an overly simplified thing to say, but it’s true. So many of life’s problems are caused by making decisions when the logic switch is off.

The logic switch explains why people say hurtful things they don’t mean in the middle of an argument. It explains why someone dumps their life savings into a Ponzi scheme. And it explains why people who are infatuated get married after two weeks of dating.

When the logic switch is on, you experience many benefits. Here are a few examples.

Given this information, there’s tremendous value in learning how to turn the logic switch back on.

How To Turn The Logic Switch Back On

Turning the logic switch back on is a two-step process.

Step 1: Learn To Be Aware Of Your Emotions

We know that strong emotions turn the logic switch off. Therefore, you can identify when you’re not thinking logically by learning to become aware of your emotions.

This is a challenging first step. Studies show that 64% of us are unable to identify our emotions. Thankfully, the following three ideas can help.

1. Try to identify what emotions you are feeling a few times per day. To do this, select a few random times throughout the day to examine your emotions. Describe how you are feeling in as much detail as possible. Don’t worry if you find this challenging at first. It will get easier with time.

2. Try to identify when you feel a sudden change of emotion. In this step, don’t focus on what caused the emotion. Instead, focus on trying to recognize a sudden rush of emotion. You might notice a tightness in your chest, butterflies in your stomach, or feel your heart rate increase. These physical cues are helpful because they are warning signs that suggest your thinking may be impaired.

3. Identify what triggered the change of emotion. Once you can identify a sudden shift in emotion, you’ll want to identify the trigger. Maybe you feel angry when your boss dumps a last-minute project on your desk. Or, perhaps you feel frustrated when your spouse takes hours to respond to a text message.

When you know what triggers your emotions, you can use that knowledge to identify when your logic switch is off.

Note: Meditation has been shown to improve self-awareness. So if you’re looking for a convenient way to become aware of your emotions, you could try meditation.

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Step 2: Wait

The logic switch turns off when strong emotions elevate specific chemicals in the brain. The logic switch turns on when brain chemistry returns to normal. This process can take anywhere from 6 seconds to 20 minutes. 5 6

When you feel strong emotions, the best thing you can do is wait. Resist the urge to react. Don’t say or do the first thing that comes to mind.

Instead, give yourself at least 6 seconds to take a breath and think. If your emotions are intense, give yourself 20 minutes to calm down before taking action.

This pause can have a dramatic effect.

Reacting after your boss dumps a last-minute assignment on your desk might sound like: “How do you expect me to get this done? You have no respect for my personal time.”

Responding after your boss dumps a last-minute assignment on your desk might sound like: “I understand this assignment is important, but I’ve got a lot on my plate. If this assignment is the priority, we’ll have to set a new timeline for my other projects.”

How To Overcome Problems When Following This Advice

Here are two common problems you might experience when applying these ideas.

1. Reacting Is Instinctive

Our ancestors could make two mistakes.

  1. Reacting to a false alarm. The cost of this mistake was unnecessary fear.
  2. Not reacting to a valid threat. The cost of this mistake was their life.

With the cost of not reacting being so high, evolution programmed us to react. Anyone who needed excess levels of motivation to react didn’t survive. For this reason, reacting is an effortless process.

Overcoming the instinct to react is hard because it goes against your nature. However, thanks to neuroplasticity, the more you remember to respond rather than react, the easier it gets.

Here are some tips for overcoming this sticking point.

1. Identify when you react. If you’ve experienced something emotional, analyze your behavior after you calm down. Look for examples of when you said things you didn’t mean or acted impulsively.

2. Stop yourself from reacting. Once you’re aware of how you react, use that knowledge to stop yourself before you do. This step is challenging but becomes easier with practice.

2. You Try To Control Your Emotions

Some people try to control their emotions in an attempt to keep the logic switch on. At first glance, this idea makes sense. After all, if you prevent yourself from feeling strong emotions, your logic switch will never get turned off.

Unfortunately, this approach will never work. That’s because emotions are an essential part of being human. Our emotions act as important cues that keep us alive and guide us through life.

For example, fear acts as a cue to find safety, loneliness acts as a cue to create social connections, and happiness suggests that you’re doing the right thing.

So, rather than trying to get rid of your emotions, your goal is to learn how to manage them.

How To Know When You’ve Taken These Ideas Too Far

Here’s one way you can take the ideas in this article too far.

You question every action you take. Remember, I’m not asking you to analyze and obsess over every action you take. Doing so will make you an anxious mess. To avoid this problem, focus on questioning your behavior only when you feel strong emotions.

In A Nutshell

Here are the key takeaways from this article.

  • Humans tend to become irrational in a matter of seconds. This leads to less-than-ideal behavior.
  • The human brain is excellent at thinking and reacting to threats.
  • The thinking brain is smart but slow.
  • The reacting brain is fast but dumb.
  • When you feel strong emotions, You lose your ability to think logically. This means you can act without thinking.
  • Acting without thinking is good when avoiding a snake, but it’s bad when responding to your spouse.
  • As the strength of your emotions increases, your ability to think logically decreases.
  • Your brain has a smart state and a dumb state.
  • One of the easiest ways to improve your life is to stop making decisions when your brain is in the dumb state.
  • To turn the logic switch back on, (1) learn to be aware of strong emotions, and (2) wait.
  • You can make better decisions by resisting the urge to react and giving yourself time to respond.
  • To avoid common problems, (1) learn to become aware of how you react, and (2) learn to manage, not control your emotions.
  • You may have taken these ideas too far if you question every action you take.

Books That Influenced This Article

The following book links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a book after clicking one of the links, I will receive a commission.

Hardwiring Happiness
Book | Audiobook | Kindle

Book | Audiobook | Kindle

Book | Audiobook | Kindle

Emotional Intelligence 2.0
Book | Audiobook | Kindle

  1. Alan Duke. Bale apologizes for ‘Terminator’ tantrum. (February 6, 2009).
  3. Olfactory bulb. Wikipedia.
  4. David H. Zaid & José V. Pardo. Emotion, olfaction, and the human amygdala: Amygdala activation during aversive olfactory stimulation. National Library Of Medicine. (April 5, 1997).
  5. Arlin Cuncic. Amygdala Hijack and the Fight or Flight Response. (June 22, 2021).
  6. Aaron Karmin. How Long Does the Fight or Flight Reaction Last? (June 3, 2016).


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